Arkansas is preparing to execute two death row inmates on Monday night, after a flurry of legal challenges, court rulings and reversals complicated the state's unprecedented plan to execute eight men by lethal injection in 11 days.
Of the four executions scheduled prior to today, three were ultimately stayed. One man, Ledell Lee, was killed, just four minutes before his death warrant was set to expire; it was the first execution Arkansas carried out in 12 years.
Jack Jones Jr. and Marcel Williams are scheduled to die on Monday night. On Friday, a federal judge declined to call off their executions.
If both Jones and Williams are killed on Monday, it will be the first double execution carried out in the U.S. since 2000.
Another inmate, Kenneth Williams, is set to be executed this Thursday. inmate Jason McGehee also had been scheduled to die that day, but a parole board has recommended his life be spared and a judge ruled that the state had to allow a 30-day period for public comment before making a final decision.
That pushes McGehee's execution past the end of the month — which means, for now, it is effectively stayed. The state's supply of one of the drugs used in its lethal injection protocol, midazolam, expires at the end of April, which is why officials set such a rapid schedule of executions.
The executions were briefly blocked by decisions in both state court and federal court. But then on Monday, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected concerns over the method and pace of the executions, and the Arkansas Supreme Court overturned objections to how the state acquired one its drugs.
The higher courts' decisions paved the way for executions to move forward, unless an inmate receives an individual stay.
Lawyers for both Jack Jones and Marcel Williams have sought such stays, including through appeals based on the inmates' poor health. The lawyers say the inmates' current medical issues — and drugs used to treat them — might interfere with the lethal injection protocol and cause them to feel extreme pain.
Jacob Rosenberg, a reporter for the Arkansas Times, told NPR on Sunday that the men also have claims of intellectual disability.
"Marcel Williams has a very compelling case that's been discussed where he had a pretty horrific childhood growing up of sexual abuse, and that wasn't brought up at trial," Rosenberg said. "The reason that matters is because with the imposition of the death penalty, there's something called mitigating circumstances. And so those need to be brought up at trial because those mitigating circumstances, like mental health, could stop the death penalty's imposition."
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said it's his duty to carry out the men's sentences and that the executions will bring closure to victims' families.